Curiosity often gets the best of me and manifests in creative experiments.
I define experiments loosely in that they can be paid client work or personal work. The main criteria for my experiments are:
1) They must be challenging in some new way (perhaps it's a new skill, medium or way of translating information or changing behavior)
2) There must be some broader impact to society. It could be as small as inspiring other people to play and experiment with their creative work or as big as bringing science and society closer together.
Here are a a few of my favorite projects as well as exciting works in progress. I've laid out the projects, the questions I hoped to answer. And I'm hoping to add more about process in the future.
Particle 17 (work in progress)
How can I change they way people perceive physics, more specifically subatomic particles?
Is there a tangible way to give people an interactive experience that both educates and awes?
This is one my forays into large scale public art. Particle 17 draws its namesake from the Higgs Boson, that critical subatomic particle that allows the rest of quantum field theory to hang together. QFT says that instead of seeing particles like quarks and photons as physical objects like a chair or a marble, it’s better to think of them as excitations of a three dimensional field. And each of the 17 fields are layered right next to each other, sometimes interacting with each other. This concept is difficult to visualize and runs up against the limits of our imagination.
So how could we make this beautiful and elegant idea less abstract and more real? Particle 17 features a series of large panels in succession. Each one depicts a different field and is made of a different material and design, showing for example how the photon field interacts heavily with the electron field but the neutrino field remains inert to most of the others.
Viewers can walk between the panels to examine the interaction up close and can use their smartphones to engage with an augmented reality (AR) experience where images on the panel appear to animate and come to life inside of the viewer’s device.
At the end of the panels is a large screen featuring an animation that conveys the interaction between the different fields in a simple yet visually compelling and intelligent way.
Powers of X (work in progress)
How can I change the way the public perceives math, as this boring, rigid, required subject?
How can I raise awareness for amazing work in mathematics when perhaps it is the STEM field that gets the least love?
How do we talk about women in math without making it just about gender?
I've always struggled in math class, which may surprise many people. But I have always been fascinated by math's visual and artistic applications, for example design composition and music. Much of what makes a composition pleasing or a melody beautiful is based in math. Perhaps, I just never approached it the right way. Most people think math is this boring rigid construct, myself included until I had a wonderful dinner with a mathematician that completely changed my mind. She began talking about math in the abstract and helped me imagine relationships between objects and suddenly math was no longer boring or rigid at all.
So I decided that more people needed to hear from badass women in math and experience this newfound appreciation for it like I had. When you hear things like, "It's like being a voyager in this math world." I'm like, sign me up for this adventure! How do I hitch a ride?
Just as math is perhaps the least recognized field within STEM, female mathematicians have historically taken a backseat to their male counterparts. Powers of X is an interview series that illuminates and visualizes the work of women in mathematics today. I want to bring their stories, research, and impact, into the light; helping the world better understand the importance of math and the women who are shaping its future.
Beyond Curie in AR (work in progress)
How can new technologies reveal a hidden layer of information to people?
How do you continue to stretch a project that has won critical acclaim?
My first brush with AR was back in the day when I made an animated anniversary card for my now fiancé. The moment I saw his eyes widen in response to the hidden animation, I knew I had to find a way to incorporate it into my projects. But AR and animation is time consuming and there's the backend tech component I'd need help with if I wanted to do it right. I was also speaking a bunch and running around facilitating collaborations between designers and scientists and building out my element-inspired fashion line. But still—we should make time for the things that matter. Then an opportunity presented itself when I gave a keynote lecture at North Carolina State University and found some collaborators in Lisa Wong and Eric Laber. I convinced the Museum of Natural Sciences to create an exhibit around Beyond Curie, my initiative that celebrates badass ladies in STEM, and to include 10 AR-enabled pieces.
We've been experimenting with how to map the AR layer to the image and how to combine a healthy but not overwhelming mix of 2D and 3D animation. It's been a fun and rewarding ride, but I'm pretty sure the 9am Monday morning video meetings are killing us all. But we've got a solid deadline ( Exhibit opens March 24) and we're racing to the finish line.
NAUTILUS: Heads or Tongues?
How can we visually translate a scientific article/paper?
What if a collage and an infographic had a baby? What would that look like?
My dear friend was heading up the design of Nautilus, a punchy science/art magazine that takes up a lot of my bookshelf, and asked if I'd be interested in doing a little experiment. Of course I said yes. We were examining how we could visually showcase the research around where color perception comes from. Why is it that "red" means "red" in nearly every language?
Science papers are usually pretty dense, so it was great fun to blow it up into little bite-sized chunks of information that don't necessarily have to be read in a specific order. We played with some ideas including a cartoon strip, infographic or type piece, something that would fit across a 3-page spread and hold a lot of content. Then I realized we should make a stealth infographic. We could use some beautiful collage imagery to hook our readers and build the collage out with supporting crumbs of information, kind of like a tree with branches.
TED Recommends: A boundary-pushing visual system
How can we communicate depth, playfulness, complexity, humanity and a host of other topics in one image?
How can we inspire people to engage with a new product that they know little about?
Having been in the TED fam now for a couple of years, it's always lovely when one of your friends asks you to a creative play date. He explained that TED will be rolling out a new recommendation system, a digital product that will effectively tailor talks to your tastes. He wanted some fresh eyes on making this experience feel fresh and exciting but of course maintain the integrity of the TED brand. Since I've now given two TED talks, one in 2016 at the end of the TED Residency and my first mainstage talk last Fall at TEDWomen, I had a unique perspective I wanted to bring to the visual system. I know what it's like to give and receive a TED talk.
It's like having a coffee with every single person in the audience. What you share is deeply personal, emotional and hopefully moves and inspires them. So, I started with a central sphere or circle to represent the aerial view of a coffee mug. Then I brought in bright colors and gradients to represent the dynamism of the stories shared at TED and how things are often shades of color rather than black an white. Lastly came the imagery that represented humanity, things we've built, animals we've studied, people large and small to represent the microcosm that a TED talk opens you up to for those 15 minutes that you're listening.
The Genius Deck
How can I empower more creatives with this tool to help them combat creative block?
Can I hack together some code and actually build something functional?
During my time as a TED Resident at TED HQ in SoHo NYC, I created The Genius Deck, a deck of 50 cards, inspired by the amazing humans who went through the program with me and our late nights of brainstorming and making as well as Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies. The Genius Deck is a tool for invoking the creative genius inside you. Each card offers a question or prompt designed to provoke new directions of thought and can be used individually or reviewed as a pack. It's now used at Pepsi's innovation labs as well as by a number of other orgs.
But paper decks are sometimes cumbersome and cards get lost. What if I could create a free shareable version for the smartphone era? The idea would get a lot more mileage on a website, and many more creative people would be able to use it. I am the first to say that I am not an engineer. I spent many hours trying to get it to its current state and definitely asked for help. I was pleasantly surprised to find The Genius Deck featured on LifeHacker among other sites after it got hunted on Product Hunt.
Can I train creativity?
How might I try new styles and feel free to fail at them?
I really got bit by the side project bug for this one. I had an ambitious goal to level up in my new Art Director role by taking up to 1 hour every day to create an illustration or design. I called this project Creative Habit. I had bad days and great days. Most days were somewhere in the middle. I tried a bunch of new styles and loved the freedom of no-pressure experimentation.
Read about my findings here; TLDR you can't train creativity per se but you can train speed, which often helps you explore more options and leads to more creativity.